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Lunar Lander Launch

Private US aerospace company Intuitive Machines successfully launched a phone-booth-sized robotic lunar lander early yesterday, hoping to land roughly 180 miles from the moon's south pole Thursday. If successful, the Odysseus mission would mark the first-ever private lunar landing and the first US soft landing (reaching the surface via a controlled descent) since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

The lander, launched aboard a SpaceX rocket, carries six NASA instruments as part of the administration's program to outsource lunar missions to reduce costs. The $120M scientific payloads are partly designed to help prepare NASA for landing humans on the moon as early as 2026 via its Artemis program. A separable camera to capture photos of the lander's descent and moon sculptures by artist Jeff Koons are also included.

Watch the craft detach from the upper stage of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after reaching Earth's orbit here

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